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A New Measure of Progress
by Jessica Carner
Aug 26, 2011 | 2512 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/John Byrne - Mrs. Oade, a third grade teacher at Echo Loder Elementary School, works with one of her students, Carolina, during class on Thursday.
Tribune/John Byrne - Mrs. Oade, a third grade teacher at Echo Loder Elementary School, works with one of her students, Carolina, during class on Thursday.
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RENO — The Washoe County School District has built a growth model for student progress that Superintendent Heath Morrison is hoping will eventually replace the current national accountability system that educators and legislators agree is “broken.”

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which was passed in 2002, measures overall school improvement, or Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), year-over-year based on 45 target areas. The act requires schools to show 75 percent improvement in overall proficiency by 2014 to reach “universal proficiency.”

The problem with NCLB, Morrison said during an interview Wednesday, is it does not track the progress of individual students and classrooms in a manner that requires all students to show personal growth each school year. It also forces educators to focus on average test scores, rather than making sure each student is improving.

“We want to be held accountable for moving each child forward,” Morrison said. “With AYP, we are not being held accountable for that.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier this month announced he would unilaterally override the NCLB requirements that every child be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Duncan called NCLB a “slow-motion train wreck,” and said he will waive NCLB requirements for states that have developed their own accountability and testing systems that are proven more effective than AYP.

“The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) got it backwards — it was loose on the goals but tight on the means — and today it’s forcing states into one-size-fits-all solutions that just don’t work,” Duncan wrote in a White House blog.

Duncan said states will not be given a pass on accountability as a result of the NCLB waivers, which districts across the country, including the WCSD, are applying for.

“There will be a high bar for states seeking flexibility within the law, working off a framework that the states themselves have put together with the Council of Chief State School Officers,” Duncan wrote.

Morrison said WCSD is one of the most accountable school districts in the country with its five-year strategic plan, “Envision WCSD 2015,” which sets rigorous standards for students and educators and holds everyone involved in the education process accountable for getting each student to graduation. Instead of focusing on year-over-year average test scores, as AYP does, WCSD’s strategic plan focuses on the growth of each individual student and tracks their progress throughout the school year.

“It contains five goals based on student academic success, human capital development, family and community engagement, positive self-renewing culture and performance management,” Morrison wrote on the district’s website. “The reform plan is ambitious and challenging, but it sets the right goals and is the right thing to do for our students.”

WCSD’s newly adopted motto is, “Every child, by name and face, to graduation,” and Morrison said he hopes someday the federal accountability system will follow such a growth-based model.

“Every teacher and principal that is doing their job wants to be held accountable,” Morrison said, “but we want to be held accountable for something that makes sense and is fair.”

Teacher performance should be measured on the growth of students, Morrison said, as he drew a line on a whiteboard representing proficiency. He drew a dot above and a dot below the line, one representing a classroom that is above proficiency level and the other a classroom below.

“Which class would you want your child to be in?” he asked.

While most people would immediately say they would want their child to be in the class above proficiency, Morrison said you’d probably want to know which class showed improvement over the course of the year.

If the class below the proficiency level showed significant improvement over the course of the school year and the class found above proficiency actually regressed, would you still want your child to be in that class? Probably not, he said.

“The problem with AYP is these teachers are being punished,” Morrison said as he circled the dot representing the class below proficiency level that actually showed improvement.

“And these teachers are being rewarded,” he said, pointing to the dot representing the class above proficiency that showed no improvement.

Though AYP might not accurately represent student progress, Morrison said Washoe County students demonstrated significant improvements in math, writing and reading during the last school year for the second consecutive year. The district also is narrowing the achievement gap between white students and African-American and Latino students.

“The thing I am proudest of is in math, scores of white students were up 6 percent, but African-American and Latino scores were up 12 percent,” Morrison said. “We’re closing that achievement gap.”

Schools across the district, even those that did not make AYP, showed academic growth according to the WCSD strategic plan. Look for more on what individual schools in Washoe County are doing to move students ahead on the pathway to graduation in Sunday’s issue of the Daily Sparks Tribune.
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